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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn


cropOn the fourth day of xmas...

This year, at least on the weeks where I have had my act together, I try to post M-F, or some subset, but I'm in the mood to post all the xmassy stuff, so I figured I'd just do the 12 days, (or until I ran out of holiday themed items.)

I'm lucky enough (ghods willing and the creek don't rise) to be retired, but I feel for young people, like my glass daughter Frances, who are trying to cobble together various gigs into some sort of coherent career—so I guess it's only appropriate that another of my favourite youtubers, Philosophy Tube, explores David Graeber's Bullshit Jobs, UBI, and the idea of useful work through the lens of prior jobs.

One of the points he makes is that looking busy when there's nothing to do is absolutely deadly. I had the easiest job in the world, selling snacks in an international headquarters—I could sit and read or do whatever I wanted, within the context of staying within the booth where I was set up: there was no-one to police me or keep an eye on me, most of the time. I made such a mess of my drawer that they canned me after the first week.

Even as low-stress as that position was, it didn't feel right to be paid to do (almost) nothing, just so some well paid executives could have the pleasure of a real person, instead of a vending machine, to hand them their snacks—knowing what I know now, I could probably cope a lot better with such a job, but it just struck me as... wasteful. (My wages were pocket change, I'm sure, but to me it seemed like a ridiculous expense.)

It's odd that when Philosophy Tube cited “hero” jobs, I thought of garbagemen—it's absolutely essential, not terrifically pleasant, but really helpful to society! But, he meant soldier and police, I guess because of the ‘danger’ —except, being a garbage man is fifth or sixth most deadly, depending on the year or whose list you consult; cops, military personnel and firefighters, the traditional ‘hero’ jobs don't even make the top ten.

His larger point is that truly essential workers—nursing home attendants, grocery store clerks and the like (who are often women and/or PoC) are deeply undervalued (and underpaid), and if we had UBI, then these people could elect to keep working or flip the bird, and obscenely rich Bezos types would actually then have to, yanno, pay their warehouse workers a decent wage.

Sounds good to me. Cuz I think there are a lot of jobs out there, like building community, or pushing loving-kindness, or making art, that are far more valuable than sitting around for the pleasure of your boss's ego, and those are the positions I'd like to see people filling. And like Philosophy Tube, I believe most people would try to find something meaningful to do with their lives. As for the five percent who decide a meaningful life is eating cheetos and playing video games, eh, so what? Likely even they will end up making entertaining playthroughs, and if not, at least they're not making the world more miserable with their greed, unlike some extremely wealthy bottom feeders I could think of...

In the meantime, I can enjoy the pleasure of Frances’ charming giftwrap, a present nearly as delightful as the contents.


cropToday's gift is pretty colourful, so it seems only appropriate to link to a video explaining how a maths person programmed all 500 lights of his xmas tree to follow the geometry of the tree, rather than simply tracking the order they came on the wire: the wizard told me about this guy's adventures several days ago, and how he was photographing individual lights and tagging the ones that didn't photograph quite right and hand-fixing those and it sounded incredibly tedious.

But that's just because if I had been trying to solve the problem there would have been a lot of hair-pulling and cursing while attempting the sorting/counting/step-by-step. Mathematicians & programmers make computers, which are good that iterative tedium, do all that work instead.

With math. Full of large curly braces, sines, cosines, thetas and the like (well, I identified the latex typesetting, anyway...) and as the guy notes, learn all that linear algebra and matrices so you too can make an awesome xmas display of lime green an purple lights. Or anything else your heart desires.


cropI suppose today's linkie, courtesy of dpreview, which not only features splendid photography, but also hints on capturing the lovely, crystalline patterns of frozen soap bubbles yourself, would've gone better with yesterday's pix. However, I'm def. in the better late than never mode right now.

What really impressed me was how relatively simple the equipment was (alas, I haven't got the polarizing film, but now I think I wanna get some) to do this, but I have photographed similar patterns on our windows which is even easier to do if you have a somewhat leaky house that permits frost to form on the inside of your storms.

Anyway, representing the cold, ice and snow crystals is this cool blue giftwrap. Enjoy.


cropI have christmassy links I wanna post now, not in a year's time (though one of them was made a year ago & held back, because evidently I'm not the only person running perpetually behind...

Given my messing about with fire (not to mention outdoor dinners in the dark...yay, covid) I'd like to give this old fashioned munchie a try. It's not as if I don't buy rum in giant, costco-sized bottles (and basically use it only for baking. I just do a fair amount of baking) Who could resist sticking their fingers in blue fire, after all?

I actually was in a reasonably good mood about the holidays, because a teensy upside of COVID19 is that everything is very low-key this year, which had a salutarily calming effect on even the much downsized celebration I've been doing in recent years. However, I'm still bummed that I didn't get to hang out with not one but two nieces who have taken up drawing & painting, and have a rather generally snarky attitude anyway. With that in mind, here are my holiday links: via pharyngula one of my favourite youtube bloggers has a new video out, on the War on Christmas; another FTB blogger has a new-to-me xmas song, Chinese Food on Xmas which I thought was cute (and yes, I'm so clueless that, no, I didn't know where the song was going till it told me—even though I'm familiar with this custom)

And to celebrate the delights we all have in the US with healthcare, there's this manger healthcare services satisfaction survey (probably via one of the patheos blogs); they were likely responsible for another xmas favourite, Patton Oswald's take on Christmas Shoes, which I like for the same reason that I appreciate Eartha Kitt's Santa Baby.

So there you have it, my wishes for a Merry Christmas, if that's your jam, or a nice weekend if not.


cropO hai, guess mebbe we're going for 3x/week this time:) whatever I can manage. SAD, ugh. (This was s'posed to go up 25Nov. Lost track, found again last week, finished—and it's very long and very dull, so I recommend just clicking on the image, after checking out the mcmansion hell link...

Ooooh, a new McMansion Hell just in time for the hell that is the beginning of the commercial xmas season Thanksgiving. Via Cory Doctorow, who has his own entertaining glosses of a more marxist slant on the topic.

Hmm, what else have I been wasting my time on the internet watching? A 2 or 3 hour long takedown of The Bell Curve (which, let's face it, was superbly done right after it came out, some 25 years ago, by Stephen Jay Gould, who's sadly faded from public (scientific) discourse since his death) for which the teal-deer version is The Bell Curve was never meant to be a serious scientific treatise, but rather a conservative political tract against the poor and PoC.

Boom, done. But if on the other hand you want three hours of painfully detailed takedowns of the shoddy cites, (not to mention outright deceptions) this vid (via FTB) could be your jam..

Speaking of which, a friend sent me a link of this radiolab podcast titled Deception because he found the conclusion of it so depressing: basically, that self-deceiving people do better in sports, commerce and politics (bad enough) but are generally happier people (worse). So I listened to it, and while I found the intro, which featured the damage a con artist inflicted upon one victim (which at the time of recording was still severe enough that the victim had not trusted himself to make any new friends since his encounter) the most appalling, my takeaway was a bit different.

And hopeful! (Otherwise I couldn't possibly defend the ye-ghods-knows-how-much-blather below...)

One reason (possibly) is that I see deception in general and self-deception in particular as falling on a spectrum. Though I work very hard to avoid self-deception, nevertheless I am aware is that every once in awhile the veil of a particular self-deception gets ripped away; however, the truth revealed is so painful that it descends again. (Which is why I can't tell you precisely what that particular self-deception is.) In fact, I recall reading a particular Alan E Nourse short story about being forced to face all one's self-deceptions/bad behaviors, stripped of self-justifications—as a prelude to some sort of immortality treatment, as I recall—and facing those truths killed most people.

But wouldn't this tend to reinforce my friend's interpretation? Well, sort of. Later in the essay, the author(s) mention some deception research in which the scientists were trying to get people to lie so they could measure the physiological discomfort resulting from answering one way while believing something else, at least on a subconscious level. The questions were supposed to be ones in which the honest answer is yes, but that social pressure demand the subjects answer no. Some people were unembarrassed, as the woman, when asked, does it [always?] feel good to defecate? answered, of course.

I thought about how I would answer these questions, but pretty soon was having (for lack of a better term) second order ruminations: such as, how good are the researchers’ privacy protocols? (I would expect most researchers to be slightly better at, say, computer security, but it's certainly not a guarantee...) If you want me to answer a question that could potentially damage an important, decades long relationship, shouldn't I (ethically) refuse to answer? Okay, if the answers to such questions are so potentially damaging, how did you researchers managed to get these questions past your IRB...?

And so on.

The point of the research was to set up a situation in which the respondents would be forced to lie about something they deeply cared about so they could measure that dissonance vis-a-vis self-deception. Good experimental design requires that your subjects not know what the point of the experiment is so they don't game their answers, but this was sloppy, because some of the questions didn't trigger the correct response in some number of subjects (e.g. the woman whose response to a good shit was, doesn't everyone love that?) and others edged into ethically slippery territory.

Thus, the experiment failed to satisfy the conditions (of being well designed and ethical) and so its conclusions were invalid, and therefore didn't bother me.

That said, I'm a pretty gullible sort of person (provided I trusted the researchers, I would've merrily been answering all sorts of deeply private questions, yeesh), which may be the reason I positively obsessed over stories of predators like the gaslighter cited in the essay. —Societies have various ways of defending themselves from these sorts of parasites, one of which is by enacting costly initiating rituals upon new members before paying out resources.

They can merely be time intensive (attending a religious service that lasts all day/multiple times a week) or skill intensive (say, becoming a glass beadmaker before joining a local guild for such—our local guild lets anyone join, but no-one who doesn't makes glass beads in practise does) or money intensive (say, a club with high fees) —or all three. But the fact of the matter is that predators and parasites can and do take advantage of people's good natures, which is why “setting boundaries” or “checking bona fides” or other filtering processes are important.

However, a victim has all sorts of interests and demands on her time. The predator/parasite is focused on one thing, and therefore has an advantage of being more invested than the mark in succeeding, so, despite one's best efforts, any ordinary person is likely to get scammed or tricked —that is, parasitized—at some point. Self-deception can help cope with the loss: I have to let it go, it's my husband's brother who cheated us, and he loves his brother, and my marriage is more important than the thousands of dollars/being accused of fraud[!] The person telling the story wasn't happy about the situation, but I think she was in a better place than if she continuously obsessed over the loss, became super angry and bitter, etc.)

Or, to take a story closer to home (heh) my mother and I were once accosted by a homeless(?) woman who wanted some fresh oranges, so we took her to a local store to buy her some, but then she changed her story to juice, along with other food. Seeing that we were successful marks, her story started to shift again, angling for cash for the bus. I think my mom gave her some cash, and we both agreed that a) this woman clearly lied to us, as her story kept shifting, and b) her situation, whatever it was, was certainly worse than ours, and she probably needed the money.

IOW, we talked ourselves into feeling good about being scammed. (But this is also why I prefer to give money to orgs that help the homeless or other groups, because they have much greater expertise in screening the scams, and actually directing the cash where it will, one hopes, do the most good. Yet, homeless advocates and welfare researchers have mostly railed against so-called means testing, arguing instead that direct cash transfers do the most good. I'm willing to concede this, but I'd still rather the government, with presumably some advisors who have actually researched this stuff—i.e. provided a filter, see above—to handle a complex issue outside of my knowledge base (other than having been poor when I was young.)

All to say: deception is supposedly one of the earliest skills any social ape species develops as it evolves to surviving as part of a group. That same podcast mentioned, IIRC (I came back to this essay a couple of weeks after I started it...) that one guy tried setting up his life so as never to lie. I attempt to do the same, mostly because it's easier. Sometimes the contortions aren't worth it, and so I “rationalize” (i.e. practise a deception) on the grounds that not only I but the other person will be better served by simplifying (i.e. “deceiving”). Some level of deception evidently is necessary to be a social species.

The vitally critical point is to, so far as one is able, not hurt others. Which, being something of a judgement call, means that applying these principles is a necessarily imperfect call.

Which is a very, very, very long —and tedious, sorry!—way to refute my friend's despair. And all I've got, for those very few who read this far, is a link to a pen and ink sketch, which is not, unfortunately, much of a reward.


cropThe NYT helpfully informed me that the second Wreck It Ralph movie was sliding off Netflix, so I decided to watch one last time, despite being pretty sure I'd already seen it.

Actually, I hadn't—just some of the iconic Disney Princess scenes. I'm very much in the mood for nice, sweet, not-too-challenging films (though, alas, the gender roles in typical holiday fare is generally too annoying—pity) and kids’ films generally fit the bill.

Yet the film has plenty of sly commentary for adults, without getting too deeply into the problematic aspects of online culture (bad enough in 2018, when the film finally appeared, & now, of course, verging on real toxicity, especially in our political discourse, which is why I'm watching these lo-stress films in the first place...) What was particularly interesting was differentiating the things that stayed the same (google, pintrest, and especially eBay, on which a plot point turns) those things that were streamlined (youtube and buzzfeed were mashed into ‘buzztube’) and those for which analogues were developed (Grand Theft Auto becomes Slaughter Race, which I totally applaud, because the original is incredibly misogynistic, and ...that wouldn't’ve worked. At all.)

Because, among other things, the film was surprisingly feminist, and so the game had to be one women and girls could play as equals. I also liked the way the film gently poked fun at some of the classic Disney Princess tropes (such as the fact that hardly any of them have mothers). And I liked seeing so many bits of pop culture, such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Star Wars, etc...buuuuuut

This circles back to the problem those feel-good sites have, like, ‘movie star buys struggling person a car so they can get to their crappy minimum wage job so they can struggle up some ladder to “make it” —in a perfect world, no-one would be in such an appalling situation. And in a perfect world, folks other than uber-rich in both IP & dollars Disney could incorporate tons of pop culture icons into their work; including, frex, people who might critique the mouse a little more sarcastically than the Princesses rolling their eyes at a ‘Which Disney Princess are You?’ quiz.

I expect one reason the film rolled off Netflix's offerings is that it's getting moved over to Disney's catalog, and much as I love animated films, I loathe the corp. So I'm glad I got to actually see this movie. Like the lego films to which it's been compared, the Wreck-It Ralph films look kinda stupid on the outside, but have a surprising level of heart and empathy inside.

Have a great weekend, and here's another holiday bracelet to round out the week's offerings.